A long strange trip for Gratton
No doubt you all recall the fuzzy fax. That was what then-general manager Phil Esposito, knowing he could not match the Flyers' $9-million offer sheet for Chris Gratton, claimed was the problem when the offer sheet came into the Lightning's offices. While that is a painful moment in Lightning history, current general manager Jay Feaster said his painful moment came in March 2000, when GM Rick Dudley traded Gratton (whom the Flyers found less than stellar and sent back to Tampa Bay) to the Sabres as part of the deal to get Cory Sarich.
Feaster, who brought Gratton back to the Lightning on Wednesday by trading a second-round draft pick to the Panthers (this year's or next, it's Florida's option), said he never lost contact with Gratton, catching up with him after at least five of the eight games the teams play each season.
"Chris and I had a great relationship,'' Feaster said. "It's not like we were best buddies but we communicated. Grats knows this management team and this coaching staff really wants him. Torts is pumped.''
As for Gratton, he said Thursday that he always kept track of the Lightning -- something about always being close to the team that drafted you. And as he said about Feaster's interest, "It means the world to me. I met him at a young age. I followed his career, watching him build a team there in Tampa. And when they won (the Stanley Cup), I was just as excited to see what those guys went through and see what they learned. So, I've always had close ties to the Lightning franchise. I always enjoyed playing there.''
It will be interesting to see how Gratton fits in. He is expected to play on the third line with Jason Ward on right wing and either Andreas Karlsson or Nick Tarnasky on the left. But he also is expected to get significant power play and penalty kill time. And with a 56.7 percent winning percentage last season, he will take some of the pressure off Brad Richards on defensive-zone draws.
Gratton's agent Pat Morris said his client can be even more versatile than that, suggesting that if their are injuries or if the Lightning can't find wings to play on Richards' line, Gratton could move up.
"His natural position always is center,'' Morris said, "but he's a team player and will play where he's asked.''
Regardless of what you thought about Gratton in his first or second go-round with the team, from a strictly hockey standpoint, I like the move. Gratton will be 32 on July 5, not that old, really, and at 6-4, 231, is a big body. He certainly is capable of scoring 15 goals and a Ward, Gratton, Tarnasky line would be fun to watch.
Consider this though: If the Panthers decide to take this year's second-round pick, the Lightning will be without a draft choice in the first or the second rounds. Remember, it sent the 16th overall pick to the Ducks for Shane O'Brien.
But with the team clearly concentrating on winning now, and with what is considered a weak draft, Feaster does not seem concerned. In fact, he said the team likely will not look to move up in the draft.
"We feel we have a window of opportunity and we have to take advantage of it,'' Feaster said. "Whoever we draft this year is three or four years away from having an impact. This is about winning now.''